Concern that constant badgering about Gary Ablett’s future could hurt the Cats’ premiership defence has caused coach Mark Thompson’s frustrations to surface publicly, Geelong president Frank Costa says.
Thompson’s recent comments – first urging Ablett to stay, then saying he suspects the Brownlow medallist’s future is already decided – appear to reflect pessimism over the club’s chances of keeping the gun midfielder from Gold Coast’s clutches.
But Costa said his personal feeling was that Ablett would stay, with the help of third party sponsorship deals, which would make Gold Coast’s financial leverage “a smaller difference than what everybody imagines”.
He said Thompson’s comments stemmed from irritation about the constant speculation, and its potential to divert the focus needed for the huge challenge of claiming a third flag in four seasons.
“Everywhere the poor bugger goes he gets bombarded with questions about Gary Ablett,” Costa said at a Melbourne Football Club fundraiser on Wednesday.
“We saw in the grand final last year how close the competition is and the top four from last year are going to be all very competitive this year… it’s going to be very tough.
“They talk in footy about the one-percenters [such as] having your players distracted.
“Everywhere those footballers in Geelong go, all their mates and anybody that sees them [asks] ‘what are you doing about Gary Ablett, are you going to keep him or is he going?’
“Thompson was just up to his eyeballs with it and unfortunately he’s a human being and he was frustrated, that’s why he said what he said.”
But Costa said the Cats would not hurry Ablett into telling them where he would play next season and he doubted there would be an answer until at least July.
“As with every other time Gary’s contract’s come up, we don’t really talk about it until the second half of the year,” he said.
“That’s the way he likes to approach it, he doesn’t want to be pressured, he wants to concentrate on getting himself right for this year and playing the best footy he can.
“In my opinion it would be negative to our best interests to put pressure on him.”
He was confident it would not affect the Cats on the field, but admitted only time will tell.
“The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, we’ll know that as the season starts to unfold,” he said.
Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna said he had some sympathy with Thompson, while adding the expansion club did not plan on making any player announcements until the post-season.
“Some of the speculation on the back page of the papers tends to be around one player but I think it’s much deeper than that,” McKenna said.
“We’ll certainly make an announcement when we’re in a position to announce something and that’ll be at the end of the year.
“September, October we can talk to players and start talking to the media about where we’re at with our list and we should be in a position to go out with our full playing list around October.
“… But more importantly in November this year we actually start preparing for the 2011 AFL season.”
Gold Coast is believed to be prepared to offer Ablett a deal worth $1.5 million a season for five years.
Gold Coast will be able to recruit a maximum of one out-of-contract player from each of the 16 existing clubs before entering the competition as the 17th team.
But chief executive officer Travis Auld said they would likely only target eight to 10 uncontracted players.
Meanwhile, another Cats gun midfielder viewed as a poaching target, Joel Selwood, is firmly committed to the club, according to his West Coast-based brother Adam.
Adam Selwood said the lure of more premiership opportunities and a childhood background as a Geelong supporter had Joel determined to stay loyal.